18May2012

This composite image shows the galaxy UGC 5189A in X-ray data from Chandra (purple) and optical data from Hubble (red, green and blue.) The very bright source near the top of the galaxy is SN 2010jl, a recently discovered supernova. Data from Chandra have provided the first X-ray evidence of a supernova shock wave breaking through a cocoon of gas surrounding the star that exploded in SN 2010jl. This discovery may help astronomers understand why some supernovas are much more powerful than others. X-ray: NASA/CXC/Royal Military College of Canada/P.Chandra et al); Optical: NASA/STScI

Supernovae mark a stellar explosion On November 3, 2010, a supernova was discovered less than a month after it erupted in galaxy UGC 5189A some 160 million light years away.

Now, thanks to observations from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, astronomers are seeing something for the very first time… Evidence of a supernova shock wave breaking through the cocoon of gas which surrounds it. Using data taken with Chandra, a team of researchers carefully studied this region during December 2010 and October 2011 – hoping to gain insight as to why some supernova events are more powerful than others. In the case of SN10jl, it was one of the most luminous ever detected in X-ray light and about 10 times more luminous than a typical supernova revealed in optical surveys.

According to the Chandra team, “Different explanations have been proposed to explain these energetic supernovas including (1) the interaction of the supernova’s blast wave with a dense shell of matter around the pre-supernova star, (2) radioactivity resulting from a pair-instability supernova (triggered by the conversion of gamma rays into particle and anti-particle pairs), and (3) emission powered by a neutron star with an unusually powerful magnetic field.”

During its initial observation, most of the preceding explosion had been absorbed by the cocoon of gas enveloping SN 2010jl . This dense gas cloud was created by ejection from the dying massive star. During the subsequent observation about a year later, much less absorption was recorded in X-ray, suggesting the blast had erupted outward. Chandra data also pointed towards extreme high temperatures – in excess of 100 million Kelvin – firm proof of being heated by a supernova shock wave.

“The energy distribution, or spectrum, of SN 2010jl in optical light reveals features that the researchers think are explained by the following scenario: matter around the supernova has been heated and ionized (electrons stripped from atoms) by X-rays generated when the blast wave plows through this material.” says the research team. “While this type of interaction has been proposed before, the new observations directly show, for the first time, that this is happening.”

What does this mean? For starters, the discovery gives credence to the theory that some supernovae events produce blast waves which cut through the material surrounding them, causing them to be more luminous. Ironically, a second, unrelated X-ray source was also discovered in nearly the same location as SN 2010jl – overlapping it as seen from our position. It is suggested to also be an ultraluminous X-ray source… a stellar-mass black hole!

What are the odds on that?

Original Story Source: Chandra News Release.

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